Introduction: Making a LED Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device
Hello, and welcome to the Aperture Science's Computer-Aided Enrichment Center's training Instructable on building a battery-operated, LED Handheld Portal Device (or Portal Gun)! Hopefully, this Instructable will offer some insights into the build process, inspire you, and help you on your journey to build your own Portal Gun. Before we get started, note that while this build was not overly complicated, it was very time-consuming and the cost of materials was not insubstantial; but that being said I would encourage anyone who has always wanted a Portal Device to consider making their own, as the end result was well worth the investment.
This Instructable is less a step by step guide on how to build a Portal Device, and more of a walkthrough of the processes I undertook to build mine, which I hope will give you insight into building one yourself. All of the materials, tools, and resources used are easily available and can be purchased either at a local store or online. The exception would be access to a 3D printer, but even a basic 3D printer should be able to produce the necessary parts.
This build was a gift, so I was working with a deadline in order to complete it by a certain date. Because of this, there were a number of things that I was not able to do that I wish I had been able to, which I will discuss later in the build. A lot of the build was done simultaneously, with different processes happening at the same time, but for the purposes of this Instructable, I have broken it down into the major processes.
Here are the supplies that I used for my build. If you are making your own, this list is a good place to start, but I would encourage any maker to get creative and check around their local stores to see if they can find cheaper alternatives. Some of the pieces I used were expensive for the amount of material that ultimately got used in the build.
- Portal Gun 3D Files
- These files are created and provided by Kirby Downey, and are not my files. They are licensed under: MyMiniFactory Exclusive - Credit - Noremix - Noncommercial. They are provided for personal use only. He has done an amazing job of modeling out the Portal Gun and making it easily printable on small printers.
- Rechargeable 6000mAh Li-Ion Battery Pack
- This is the battery pack that I used for my build, but a 6000mAh is a much greater capacity than is really needed, and a cheaper alternative could probably be found. If I were to build this again, I would go with a smaller battery.
- LED Strip Lights and IR remote/sensor
- These are the LEDs I used, they worked great but keep in mind that the build really only takes about 24 inches of LED strip, so there is a lot of excess, and a cheaper alternative might be available.
- Wire Looping Pliers
- These are not necessary, but if you have them they make bending the wire details on the armatures much easier.
- Polycarbonate Tubing
- This is used for the outer core. I looked at my local stores and couldn't find anything that would work. This is a bit pricey, and you only need about 4 inches, but it does work well, and it fits almost perfectly on the build as-is.
- PLA 3D Printing Filament
- Whatever your preferred filament of choice it.
- Spray Paint
- These can be found in the hardware section of Home Depot.
- I just picked up some that fit over the inner core at my local Ace Hardware.
Additionally, you will need:
- Various 12-volt cables adapters and connectors.
- This will depend on your wiring setup.
- Masking tape
- I strongly recommend a super glue accelerant as well, it will make the build much easier. I simply used baking soda, as I did not have a spray accelerate in my shop.
- 5 Minute Epoxy
- I used Gorilla Glue Epoxy, as I trust it's reliability and consistency, but whatever you have will be fine.
- Bondo Body Filler
- If your 3D prints have any large flaws, it's much easier to fill in and smooth over using Bondo, and you don't risk altering the shape of the piece too much by trying to sand out large flaws. Make sure to use a respirator and in an extremely well-ventilated area, preferably outside!
- You'll want a good supply of:
- Some 60 or 80 grit - for quickly knocking down rough print lines, and getting the pieces prepper quickly.
- 120 and 220 grit - for dialing in the surfaces.
- 320 or 400 grit - for finishing the pieces before the final painting.
- Note: once sandpaper gets caked with dust and isn't as effective, just toss it in the trash and get a fresh piece. Used sandpaper isn't effective and things can get stuck to it, which can then get rubbed against the pieces and cause damage.
- You'll want a good supply of:
Step 1: 3D Printing
Now it's time to get started with the 3D printing. For my build, I experimented with my print settings a lot on the different pieces, particularly with different infill percentages, so some of my pieces took an extremely long time to print. I found that a high infill was worth it for some pieces, as the additional heft and sturdiness it gives the parts were worth it, but I don't think it was necessary for the overall project, it was just my preference in this case.
The printing process is simple, but will likely be different for everyone as each 3D printer is unique. Regardless of what printer you're using though, my recommendation is to not worry too much about getting a perfect print. The prepping and priming process is largely the same whether the print is perfect or if it has flaws that need to be corrected; a few of my pieces came out really poorly but were still able to be used and ended up looking great in the end. Once the pieces are all printed, it's time to move on to the process of filling them with foam, to give them additional rigidity and a feeling of solidness.
02 Foam Filler
This step is not necessary for all the pieces, but for some of them, such as the large shell, I strongly recommend it. The large shell is made up of four pieces, which are hollow. By filling them with foam, they not only become more rigid but also feel more solid to the touch. I also recommend filling the structure of the barrel of the Portal Gun, and the back section of the main body. The foam filling process is simple:
- Drill holes spaced approximately 3/4 inch apart along the side of the pieces of the shell that will be glued to the other half.
- Carefully and slowly, spray some expanding foam into the holes.
- Use a wire to push the foam deeper into the pieces, trying to get foam throughout the interior of the piece.
- Loosely block some of the holes with tape to keep the foam inside.
Note: It's important not to put too much foam inside the pieces, and not to block the holes too tightly. If there is too much foam inside the pieces, or it can't escape, then it will warp the piece and the shell won't fit together properly.
Next, take the printed pieces and sand the entire surface with rough sandpaper, something like a 120 grit should be fine. This knocks down some of the more prominent imperfections and roughs up the surface so that primer/filler will stick better. Be very careful around any fine details, as the rough sandpaper can quickly damage or ruin these. Particularly any edges; because if the edges are sanded and become soft or rounded, they cannot easily be repaired. One of the factors that make the Portal Gun so beautiful is its contrasts between stark lines and rounded curves, so be cognizant of which details are being sanded.
Once all the pieces have been sanded, it's time for the first layer of filler/primer. The filler/primer is great, as it fills in the tiny flaws and defects, and gives the pieces a great primer base. The filler/primer though only fills in very shallow details, so make sure you thoroughly sand the pieces before using the filler/primer, otherwise, it's just a waste of filler/primer that will end up being sanded off. Often for the first coat, I will do a few heavy layers of filler/primer, letting it dry in between coats. Once the primer has been applied, I usually wait a full 24 hours before sanding. I recommend painting at the end of the day, and leaving it so that the paint can dry overnight.
Now that all the parts have their first layer of filler/primer it's time to start sanding. This can be a very time-consuming process and one that, unfortunately, really should be done by hand. Power tools are great, but they are imprecise and easy to mistakenly cause damage to a part. This sanding process will be repeated, as detailed below, multiple times. It's a cyclical process of sanding, priming, and sanding until the pieces achieve the desired finish. Start with rougher sandpaper and progressively get finer, and remember; once a piece of sandpaper gets worn down or caked, just toss it and get another. Worn out sandpaper is ineffective and can even damage your piece if it gets particles stuck to it which then get scraped across your piece.
I recommend doing this sanding outside or in a well-ventilated area that can easily be cleaned, as the filler/primer dust gets everywhere. Be sure to wear a respirator, safety glasses, and clothes you don't mind getting dirty.
When and if to use Bondo is largely dependent on the print quality of your pieces and whether or not the additional effort will be worth it to you. I find that after the first initial priming and sanding, the more prominent defects become clearer, and are easier to define and fill; so that is usually when I apply Bondo during a build. Often times, however, additional defects or damage will pop up throughout the build and Bondo can greatly help with fixing those mistakes.
I mixed small amounts of Bondo (not more than a tablespoon or two at a time) and carefully filled in the deeper flaws and defects on the surface of the printed pieces. Bondo has a very short window of time where it is easily workable, so mixing small batches at a time is better.
07 Sand Again
After applying Bondo to any problem areas, wait until it's fully dried, and then sand it down flush to the surface of your piece. Make sure to wear a respirator during any sanding, but especially when sanding Bondo.
Processes 04, 05, 06, and 07 get repeated as necessary until a perfectly smooth surface is achieved. Use increasingly fine-grit sandpaper, but don't go too fine too quickly, as there are diminishing returns. Stick to the rougher sandpaper for at least a few iterations to quickly get a mostly uniform surface, and then move on to the fine sandpaper once the surface of the piece is smooth. For me, it took a long time, and even after many iterations, there were still some flaws that I noticed later.
Step 2: Electronics and Lighting Effects
When setting out on this build, I had a few distinct goals that I wanted to achieve with the electronics of this Portal Device. First, I wanted to have the Portal Device be full handheld and battery-operated so that my friend could carry it, cosplay with it, or just play around with it and look awesome. After all, a Portable Device that is tethered to the wall at all times isn't much good. That being said, I did also want the Portal Gun to be able to be plugged into a wall adapter so it could act as a decoration without relying on the built-in battery pack.
Since the 3D pieces did not fit my electronics, the body pieces required some extensive modification.
The electronics in this build were as simple as I could make them. I wanted a system that was easy to build and did not have too many pieces and parts to assemble.
Here's a basic breakdown of the electronic components; the battery pack has an in and out 12V port which is used for both powering the device and charging the battery. The battery pack is installed so that this port is on the rear face of the Portal Gun, near the handle. The IR remote receiver is housed inside the gun, and plugs into the LED strip and has a 12-volt port where the power cable adapter attaches. This power cable runs from the IR receiver to the back of the Portal Gun and can be plugged into the battery pack or a 12-volt wall adapter.
And that's pretty much it; it's an incredibly simple setup and one that will hopefully be reliable for a foreseeable time.
The inner core was created by using a length of the 1/4" aluminum metal bar from Home Depot, with the LED strip super glued to it. Make sure to sand the metal with rough sandpaper to give it more grip for the glue to stick to. The LED strip goes up one side and then curves around the end of the metal band, and goes back down the other side. Try to leave a bit of slack at the end of the LED strip that curves around the bar, so it's a more rounded curve; this will both improve the lighting quality for the operational end, but also put less strain on the LED strip.
The core was then encased in a piece of sanded vinyl tubing, to give it a more diffused look, and to help sell the illusion of the core glowing from the inside.
For the outer core, first glue down the shiny foil paper from Michaels, which gives the Portal Gun more reflectivity and an interesting pattern on the underside of the core. The outer core tube is cut from a length of polycarbonate tubing, and placed over the foil paper, to help add some needed depth to the device and create that distinct Portal Gun look of the glowing inner core protected by the clear outer core.
The Operational End
For the lighting effects of the operational end, I decided to go with a frosted lens behind the emitter fan. This was partly because I thought it looked good, but also to help hide the individual LEDs and give the operational end a more cohesive glow. To achieve this, take a clear piece of acrylic/plexiglass and sand it on one side with a medium to fine grit sandpaper so it becomes frosted. Then on the sanded side, spray a layer of clear matte spray paint and cover the lens with very fine glitter. The spray paint acts as an adhesive for the glitter and also does not add any texture or other unwanted effects. Spray one more coat of the clear spray paint over the glitter to seal it in, and the lens is done. On the inner side of the barrel, more foil paper was glued, and then the emitter fan and frosted lens were installed. Lastly, I had a short length of the aluminum flashlight from the dollar store left, so that was cut to length, and it fit exactly in the inside of the emitter fan. This gives a nice level of nuanced detail, with a different kind of shininess and a variety of textures and surfaces within the operational end of the device.
The Indicator Light
One of the distinguishing features of the Portal Gun is its indicator light on the top of the large shell. This effect was achieved by using a cheap aluminum flashlight and a lens from a night light, both from the dollar store. Disassemble the flashlight and use just the metal tube, cut to the proper size and length, and glue it into the main body of the Portal Device so that it is flush with the large outer shell when installed. When installing the LED core, I tried to get one of the LEDs to be directly underneath the indicator light so that it would get the maximum amount of light shining up through the tube. I took the lens off the nightlight, and applied the same glitter and spray paint effect that I did for the lens of the operational end. The nightlight lens was then glued onto the inside of the large shell, giving the indicator light a more manufactured and professional look. If a similar lens could not be found, then doing the same process with a piece of acrylic, as with the operational end, would suffice. I went with the nightlight lens because the pattern on the plastic of the indicator light gives a subtle but important level of detail to an otherwise very uniform object.
FItting the Battery Pack
Using a Dremel multi-tool, a small craft saw, and an Xacto blade, a slot to fit the battery pack was cut into the main body. This was a fairly simple process, but be sure to take time to make the proper measurements and make the cuts carefully, as one mistake could irreparably damage the pieces. Also be careful when cutting PLA pieces with a Dremel, as it can easily heat up the plastic and warp or damage the pieces that way. Once the cuts were made, the battery pack was test fitted to ensure a snug fit. The battery pack was left out until the final assembly and then glued in place. Lastly, around the edge of the battery pack, to hide the edges of the cuts, a strip of wire was glued in place to create a decorative rim that makes the piece look more porfessional.
Installing the IR Sensor
In order for the Portal Device to be remotely operated, it is necessary to install the IR receiver somewhere on the exterior of the device. The cable for the IR receiver is not particularly long, so installing the IR receiver on the underside of the main body, just below the main core was the best location available. This location is not readily seen, and also safe from accidental bumps or other things that could damage the sensor. A hole from the main body to the exterior was drilled and the sensor was glued in place. The sensor was then carefully masked with tape until the final assembly.
Step 4: Painting
The Portal Device in the game is a plastic-looking black and white, with a shiny finish. Additionally, in the game, the portal device appears pretty weathered, and beat up, as if it has been used and abandoned for a long time. For this build, I wanted to go for a cleaner, newer, and more metallic look; as though perhaps this was the next generation of Portal Devices.
After prepping and priming all the pieces, make sure they are all as clean as possible. Especially in a workshop or garage, the dust gets everywhere, so before painting, it's very important to thoroughly clean all the pieces in order to remove any particles that might have stuck to the exterior. Once the pieces have dried, start slowly applying the paint. The white paint in particular takes about 2-3 coats to get a good shiny finish. Painting the Portal Device is one of the easier steps, as it's done almost entirely with spray paints, however, be sure to paint in a well-ventilated area, away from dust or other particles. Especially for the two shells, even a small amount of dust can ruin the perfectly smooth look that is desired.
Most of the Portal Device is the same two tones, making it easy to use paint an entire part at once, but there were a few detail spots to paint that require some masking. The main and most prominent place is the black line down the large white shell. This is fairly easy to mask, but be sure to take your time masking it! The longer you take, and the more carefully you apply the masking, the better the results will be, and it is quite difficult to fix the paint once it has been applied. Unfortunately, I did not take this advice as seriously as I should have, and I ended up with some minor faults in my paint job.
The undersides of the shells were painted the same dark metal color used for the rest of the body. If a more nuanced look was desired, then something like a matte black could be used for the underside of the shells to add another level to the paint.
The edges of the shells were painted with white model paint. This was to help cover up some scuffs the paints had endured during the build process, but also to give the shells a subtle two-tone look, with the edges being a different style of white than the rest of the build.
No particular weathering is necessary if you want the Portal Gun to look shiny and new. But some light scuffing and a basic oil-based weathering wash would be all that is needed if a more distressed look was desired.
Lastly, I applied 1-2 coats of clear gloss lacquer to the exterior to give it a nice shine and protect the paint.
Step 5: Fine Details
Now, with all the individual pieces more or less ready for assembly, let's examine how some of the additional details were created.
The Portal Gun has three cables that travel from the large rear shell to the three armatures at the front of the device. For these cables, a cheap extension cord from Home Depot works great. The material of the extension cord is the proper diameter, it's pliable, and it's easy to shape to the needed form. However, it is also rigid enough to hold its position, which is an important factor.
The extension cord was cut to the proper lengths, and the end carved down to fit inside the holes on the shell and on the armatures. Superglue was then used to hold them in position and some baking soda was used as a kicker for the glue. The baking soda and superglue create a structural form around the wires, this is important because the wires stick out and are easily bumped: they are some of the most easily damaged pieces of this build, so the extra support and strength from the baking soda/glue weld helps to prevent accidental breakages. Epoxy might have been a stronger solution, but clamping or securing the wires while the glue dries would have been very challenging, so I found the quickness of the superglue worked fine.
The Wire Armatures
At the front of the Portal Device are three armatures that stick up from the main chamber, and from the base piece of these armatures are wireframes. In the actual Portal Gun, they are relatively complex shapes. While the 3D model does have these included, the printed pieces were much too flimsy for me to want to use. Instead, I opted to use actual wire, and recreate the basic shape myself. After looking at the actual shape, I realized that I would not be able to accurately replicate the entire shape and have it look good, so I decided to split the difference and go for a simplified form with the higher quality material.
The base of the armatures was originally going to have red LEDs in them, but after a lot of fiddling and troubleshooting, I decided to remove the LEDs, as I thought they would compromise the build overall, and that trying to include them would potentially damage the pieces. Adding LEDs would be a nice additional feature, but keep it mind that it might structurally compromise some of the pieces, and would complicate the electronics a bit.
The arms themselves are fairly simple, although the first section of the arm, with its curves, is one of the most challenging pieces to print cleanly. They are delicate and easily damaged when removing supports, and so great care must be taken in order to not break them. Additionally, all of the armature segments required a fair amount of Bondo, sanding, and cleanup to look good. The armatures are some of the only pieces that can be seen from nearly any angle, so taking the time to ensure they look the best they can is worth the extra investment.
To add the wire detail to the armatures, the two holes are drilled, and some spare scrap wire is glued in and gently folded to attain the distinct shape of the wire. Lastly, the 3D printed bolts on the armatures were removed and replaced with some small nuts from the hardware store, this helped complete the look of the armatures.
The handle of the Portal Device as modeled for this print is probably the worst part of the design, and a replacement was necessary for it to be more functional, more comfortable, and not to mention better looking.
For this build, simply some spare copper tubing can make a great handle. A light sanding with fine-grit sandpaper, and then coat the handle with plasti dip or black spray paint. The regular spray paint is fine, but the plasti dip offers a more rubberized feel and a slight difference from the smooth and shiny texture of the rest of the build.
One important consideration is that the Portal Gun is fairly heavy by the end of the build, so make sure the handle goes far enough into the body of the device to lift and support it, otherwise, it might snap off. This was another reason I upgraded the handle, as I didn't trust the PLA printed handle to be able to hold the weight. The final version of the handle was inserted about 3 inches into the device and was held by epoxy to ensure it was secure.
Labels and Branding
On the Portal Device in the games, there are a few different Aperture Sciences logos on the exterior. For this build, I decided not to add the logos to the outside, mainly for aesthetic purposes but also because I did not want to risk irreparably damaging the paint job. While I did pick up some vinyl logos and considered adding them, I knew if I accidentally scratched or nicked the white paint of the shell, it would be extremely difficult to repair, so I decided to leave it unbranded for a cleaner look.
Probably the most satisfying step, the moment it all gets to come together! The STL files used for this print utilize a system of holes through the body pieces to securely connect them all. While you could use a wooden or plastic dowel for this, I used a metal rod from Home Depot. The rod goes through the body sections and is secured with Gorilla Glue Epoxy. Make sure to use some clamps, lightly, but firmly holding the pieces together until the epoxy has cured. This ensures the pieces fit together tightly and without any gaps.
Step 6: Conclusions
This project was extremely fun to make and I would encourage any fans of the Portal games to build their own. Additionally, this project is a great place to practice numerous techniques and experiment with new methods, and have the pieces be easy to work with and relatively easily fixed if mistakes are made. Overall, it was a great learning experience, and it resulted in a final product that I was very happy with, and one that made a great unique gift for a friend.
Remember, stay safe and happy making!
First Prize in the